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Faculty member's first novel named a must-read by Oprah Magazine

  • Caitlin Horrocks, associate professor of writing
  • Copies of the first novel by Caitlin Horrocks, associate professor of writing

Posted on July 16, 2019

With her first novel set to release soon and reviews already underway, Caitlin Horrocks has found that a Google alert with her name helps her keep on top of her work in a fast-paced media world.

Horrocks, associate professor of writing, received such an alert last week while in North Carolina for a writing program. She admits that she clicked the alert with a tinge of dread, an occupational hazard for someone who puts a creation into the world and wonders how it will be received.

"I said, 'What's this?' And it was Oprah," Horrocks said. "It was a fairy tale."

The book, The Vexations, is the second listing on "10 July Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down" in O, The Oprah Magazine. The debut novel, a work of historical fiction centered around eccentric French composer Erik Satie, his family and the avant-garde art scene in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is described by the magazine as a "melodic tale."

Horrocks is mindful of the cachet that comes with such recognition by the magazine, given Oprah Winfrey's status as a cultural icon who makes wide-ranging impact through her book recommendations.

"It's a fragmented media landscape and a lot of books go out to other writers," Horrocks said. "To have my book featured in a space where you are potentially reaching a whole other population is really thrilling."

The release July 30 by publisher Little, Brown is the culmination of a process that actually began when Horrocks was about 10. For piano lessons, she played "Gymnopédie No. 3" by Satie, a piece she described as pretty and accessible for someone learning piano. She was hooked and wanted to play more by Satie but was surprised to learn that his later works took on a more comedic tone rather than the lovely vibe that first attracted her.

"There was sort of a puzzle there. Who was this person who created this beautiful work and then this quirky stuff?" Horrocks said. "I held onto that question for a really long time."

Indeed, that question led her to the novel that she started in 2010. She came to find out the person who so fascinated her was a "really prickly guy." She also found out that his family dynamics were fascinating, giving her the opportunity to fully imagine family members as characters while making Satie come alive and providing a well-rounded narrative.

Her writing process included stops and starts. She gave birth. She changed literary agents. She worked with uncertainty and threw out pages and then had a crucial time period in 2015 where her agent and others told her she had the making of a novel and that they had faith that she would know how to end it.

"It was really hard but it was really exciting to bring a big project to completion," Horrocks said.

Up next for Horrocks are shorter pieces, a chance to switch gears. And someday, she said, another novel.